I have a confession to make.
Sometimes I am overwhelmed by superfoods.
Seriously, I can only handle so much trendy food. I don't want spirulina or chlorella or maca in everything I eat. Remember when everyone was head over heels for pomegranate juice about 5 years ago? Then acai hit the market. Now everyone is nuts over chia seeds and maca. Or camu (what is that anyway?) or lucuma (again, what?). Not that I'm against this stuff, per se. I'll try anything, I love new flavors, and I'm a sucker for foods that are packed with nutrients. But every time I put an $8 bag of goji berries in my basket at the co-op I ask myself, "Are you insane?" This fancy bag of funny dried berries, as delicious as they are, don't even come close to making a meal, nor do they have anything to do with my local food economy. My $8 could be much better spent on an entire bag of vegetables or a whole organic chicken. Multiple meals from locally produced ingredients vs. one bag of goji berries shipped from who knows where...what would you choose?
AH! Crisis of dietary conscious!
Generally, I find myself buying the gojis anyway, tempted by their bright red color and sweet tart flavor and crazy vitamin C content and comparitively low sugar count. But I think raises interesting questions about the place of non-local, non-seasonal, hard-to-come-by superfoods in a whole foods kitchen.
When I buy obscure powders and fancy ingredients shipped from half way across the world, am I really supporting a sustainable, low impact lifestyle? What am I really paying for - hype, or legitimate nutrition? Is it about the experience of eating this superfood or is it about how it really makes me feel? Or, more likely, is it about being part of a market-driven culture of health-driven foodies who will pay top dollar in the hope of achieving ultimate well-being? Does it even make sense for me, a genetically northern European person, to be indulging in these foreign delights as a source of nutrition? Does my DNA even know what to do with it? Is it possible to get just as much beneficial nutrition from things that we have in our own backyards, comparitively speaking? That is what our grandparents did, after all. And those farm folks were healthier than most adults now, I'm willing to bet. If cabbage was good enough for my grandma, it is good enough for me, right?
To be fair, I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to buying specialty ingredients imported from afar. For example, I love sea vegetables, and I live nowhere near the ocean. I have Himalayan pink salt and Hawaiian red salt and Indian black salt. I relish in imported Spanish saffron. I would cry for days without a bottle of high quality important Italian extra virgin olive oil. My favorite coconut oil is straight from the Philippines (by way of a Minnesota-based distributor). I am a product of a global food economy; I enjoy world cuisine and all the delights it has to offer on a regular basis. Unfortunately, our local food economies are often not set up to be completely and totally supportive of a locavore lifestyle. Making the choice to live completely locally and seasonally is HUGE, and I am nowhere near. However, I try to support this idea as much as possible. Most of the foods that make up the basis of my diet are, in fact, local. I buy local vegetables whenever possible, only buy locally-raised poultry and red meat, and try to get other locally grown ingredients whenever I can, from grains to spices to beans. I try to eat seasonally. I grew my own food this summer and preserved farmer's market purchases through canning and in my freezer. I try to make responsible choices with intention. But I'm not militant. I have those gojis in my fridge and mesquite flour on my shopping list, after all.
I guess what I'm getting around to is that I want food that is simple. Ideally, I want it local. I want it to just make sense, in harmony with nature and seasons and energetics grow zones and all that stuff. I want to feel that it is linked to tradition. I want it to feel like home. I want to see what I'm eating, I want it to be obvious. I want to know where it comes from. I don't want to have to rely on fancy powders extracted from roots grown in obscure corners of the earth I will probably never visit in order to get my nutrition. I have food right here in my own state that can give me what I need. Transparency in ingredients is part of why I eat this way, after all. So why should I willingly overcomplicate things with ingredients that I don't understand? Especially if it really doesn't even taste good (come on, really, does anyone like the taste of spirulina?).
And for these reasons, among many more, I adore vegetable slaws. It allows the vegetable to shine through, simple, easy, unadulterated, pure. No cooking, just some chopping. Maybe a drizzle of olive oil or an easy dressing. Fresh, lovely, crisp.
For this slaw I chose to use some tired-looking (local) green cabbage from my crisper and a particularly gnarly bulb of (local) celeriac. I love digging out homely stuff from the crisper and making magic. This slaw has a distinct celery flavor, thanks to a the combination of celeriac and celery seeds. It makes me think of eating coleslaw at family suppers at my grandma's house as a kid. This is nothing like her coleslaw, but it makes me think of her. Finished with a bite of ground mustard and the tartness of umeboshi plum paste, it is a tasty accompaniment to any meal. Best yet, it is ready in less than 10 minutes.
And you want super? Cabbage is an awesome source of vitamin C and is naturally antimicrobial, and aids with detoxification. Celeriac is loaded with vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, and fiber. Celery seeds are naturally diuretic, helping to rid the body of excess fluid, and are naturally anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. Umeboshi plum paste has long been used in Japanese cuisine as an appetite stimulant and detoxifying agent, and it is naturally alkalizing.
Okay, okay, so the umeboshi plum paste may be a little fancy. It is expensive. It has nothing to do with my heritage. And it was shipped from far away. But it is delicious.
Hey, I've always been contrary, even unto myself.
Cabbage & Celeriac Winter Slaw
yields approx 4 cups
1/4 head smallish green cabbage, shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 medium celeriac bulb, shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/4 tsp ground dry mustard
1/2 tsp vitamin C crystals (or maybe around 2 Tbsp lemon juice?)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp umeboshi plum paste
freshly ground pepper & sea salt
Grate the cabbage and celeriac using the large holes of a box grater, and put in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together oil and umeboshi paste, then add mustard, vitamin c/lemon, and celery seed. Pour over grated veg, and stir to mix. Add pepper and additional salt as desired, and serve.